Douglas Clarke | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Douglas Clarke

Douglas (William) Clarke. Conductor, educator, organist, pianist, composer, b Reading, Berkshire, England, 4 Apr 1893, d Warwick, England, 14 Nov 1962; FRCO 1920, BA (Cambridge) 1926, B MUS (Cambridge) 1926, MA (Cambridge) 1930.

Clarke, Douglas

Douglas (William) Clarke. Conductor, educator, organist, pianist, composer, b Reading, Berkshire, England, 4 Apr 1893, d Warwick, England, 14 Nov 1962; FRCO 1920, BA (Cambridge) 1926, B MUS (Cambridge) 1926, MA (Cambridge) 1930. Clarke served 1930-55 as dean of the Faculty of Music at McGill University, but it was in his role as a founder and the regular conductor 1930-41 of the Montreal Orchestra that he had the greatest impact upon the musical community.

Educated in England, Clarke studied 1909-12 under Sir Hugh Allen at Reading U College. After holding a commission in the Royal Navy during World War I he resumed his musical studies at Cambridge U, where his teachers were Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Charles Wood. Three of the compositions resulting from these studies were performed by the London SO. He was appointed organ scholar at Christ's College, Cambridge U, in 1923, and was conductor of the university's musical society. He moved to Canada in 1927 as conductor of the Winnipeg Male Voice Choir and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir and organist at Holy Trinity Church. A highlight of his work in Winnipeg was the presentation of the St Matthew Passion in 1927 and 1928, supplementing the Philharmonic with members of the Male Voice Choir. In 1929 he succeeded Harry Crane Perrin as director of the McGill Cons. In 1930 he became dean of the Faculty of Music, McGill University, and was invited to lead the newly formed Montreal Orchestra. He occupied the position without remuneration for 11 years, until the orchestra's dissolution after the 1940-1 season, and created a competent ensemble out of which grew the MSO.

Apart from the generous contribution of his services to the Montreal Orchestra, Clarke's importance as a conductor lay in his pioneer programming. Many works now regarded as part of the standard repertoire were heard in Montreal for the first time under his direction: to name only a few of the more obvious, Brahms' First and Fourth Symphonies, Second Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, and Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, and Sibelius' First Symphony. He also conducted the Canadian premiere of Rachmaninoff's Variations on a Theme of Paganini. He was especially interested in British music, and introduced pieces by Bax, Bridge, Butterworth, Delius, Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Walton, and Warlock. He conducted his own Three Pieces in 1931 and Piece for Full Orchestra in 1936. An exceptionally gifted sight reader, Clarke could reduce an unfamiliar full orchestral score at the keyboard. He was an eloquent organist and pianist; in the latter capacity he performed during the 1940-1, 1944-5, and 1945-6 seasons with the McGill String Quartet. For a time he gave lecture recitals on radio station CFCF prior to each of the orchestra's concerts. After his retirement from McGill University in 1955 he moved to Warwick, England, where he served as organist of St Mary's Church.

Though he was not a great conductor, Clarke's very high qualifications as a musician were incontrovertible, and he assisted significantly in the rapid development of the orchestra while opening new avenues of experience to both musicians and the public. The Montreal Festivals sponsored a concert 29 Mar 1946 at His (Her) Majesty's Theatre in public recognition of Clarke's achievements. Many of his composition students at McGill University have attested to the fact that he was an inspired teacher whose lessons might range far beyond music to include a variety of related subjects - poetry in particular. His pupils included Violet Archer, Alexander Brott, Eric McLean, Robert Turner, and Octavia Wilson (whom he married upon his retirement to England). Most of his compositions are in manuscript, but some works for choir - 'Domine Deus,' 'A Late Lark,' The Passion, a 'Magnificat,' and 'Nunc dimittis,' and various liturgical pieces and introits - were published by Stainer & Bell. A small collection of Clarke's papers is preserved at McGill University.